Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2017

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Guitar lessons for unemployed offer more than just pickin’


Christopher DeVargas

Miguel Curiel, right, leads his guitar class as the students practice Thursday, April 4, 2013. Curiel offers free weekly guitar lessons to the unemployed with opportunities to perform at events.

Guitar Teacher: Miguel Curiel

Miguel Curiel, at right, leads his guitar class as they practice for an upcoming performance, Thursday April 4, 2013. Curiel offers free weekly guitar lessons to the unemployed with opportunities to perform at various events. Launch slideshow »

It is 8 a.m. Thursday on a quiet residential street in northeast Las Vegas. One house stands out from the rest of the cream and beige single-story homes with pitched roofs.

First, there are the house numbers, painted on the backs of three guitars mounted above the front window. Second, while most of the homes on the street are quiet, with the inhabitants likely at work or school, there is music and singing coming from this house.

The sound of semi-coordinated guitars seeps through the front door, along with the “tock, tock, tock” of a metronome. A single voice cuts through the cacophony of sound with clear instructions: “Ta, te, ta, te, ta, te ...” The pace quickens incrementally.

In the back room, Miguel Curiel, 62, is giving his free weekly guitar class for the unemployed. Wearing a tie with a violin, trumpet and piano printed on it and a long wooden cross necklace, he swings a conductor’s baton to keep the class in time.

Three years ago, Curiel got the idea to start the class from Eddie Escobedo Sr., the former publisher of El Mundo Spanish-language weekly newspaper who died in October 2010. Escobedo thought the classes would help people who were struggling with unemployment by keeping them active and introducing them to new people. Escobedo even donated more than a dozen guitars for the program.

“Times were so bad then,” Curiel said of the doldrums of the Great Recession. “We were just thinking about what we could do to keep people from being down and depressed. I think it helps people focus on something other than finding a job and how they are going to pay the bills for just a little bit.”

This is the fourth class for the latest group, and they are singing and playing some basic Spanish-language songs.

Curiel was director of the St. Christopher Catholic Church choir for 17 years, has worked for the Clark County School District as a music instructor and most recently taught music lessons at the East Las Vegas Community Center. Budget cuts eventually eliminated all of the positions he held, and Curiel found himself unemployed this year except for the private classes, for which he charges a fee.

“I love music,” he said. “I’m not necessarily the most talented, but I learned young and can play most any instrument. Music is what speaks to me and how I communicate, and I love to teach it to others. It has been a rough few years, but all you can do is move forward.”

Not all the students are unemployed; some have found jobs but remain with the class.

“A lot of the guys are in between jobs, or maybe can only find part-time work. We all get together though and can talk and play music and maybe just feel a little better about things. You meet new people, and sometimes that can lead to a job tip,” said George Arriola, who has been taking the guitar lessons for about a year.

Curiel, whom the students call “Profe,” short for the Spanish “profesor,” uses a computer and a projector to show sheet music on the wall in his living room. There are instruments everywhere — guitars, violins, a piano, a drum set, keyboards and maracas that clutter every corner and shelf in the room.

The group has a performance April 21 as part of a festival in Bonanza Square. Toward the end of class, Curiel hands out the group’s uniforms, matching black and white Mexican-style ponchos. All 11 students promptly donned their new outfits.

“He is a great teacher,” new student Antonio Buendia said. “I took piano classes before, but I’m learning much better here. It’s fun to be part of a group and work together toward making it all sound good.”

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